Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shackleton And South Georgia

On this date in 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton left South Georgia Island on his ship, the Endurance. It was Shackleton's third trip to Antarctica, and the goal of this "Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition" was an ambitious one: to cross the continent from coast to coast while passing through the South Pole. The expedition would not succeed, but what happened instead is considered by many to be even more remarkable.

Endurance sailed from South Georgia -- which lies about a third of the way from the tip of South America toward Africa -- toward the point from which the expedition would proceed over land. Heavy ice in the Weddell Sea caught the ship, and after being stuck for a few weeks Shackleton ordered the ship abandoned and a temporary station set up. The men remained trapped on the ice until April. The Endurance long since lost, they were forced into three remaining lifeboats when the ice they were floating on began to break up. After a rough crossing, they ended up on Elephant Island, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Two weeks later Shackleton and a few other men took one of the lifeboats on a 16-day journey back to South Georgia, then another day and a half trek over the island to a whaling station there.

It took Shackleton nearly three months to get the rest of the crew off Elephant Island. Although the other ship in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition had suffered three casualties, all the men from Endurance survived.

After serving in World War I, Shackleton began preparations for yet another Antarctic expedition. It was not to be, though: Shackleton died en route, on South Georgia Island, where he was eventually buried, on January 5, 1922. He was 47 years old.

The original New York Times account of the expedition can he found here.

Shackleton's own first-hand account of the expedition is South: The Endurance Expedition, which includes images by expedition photographer Frank Hurley.

Shackleton's reputation was overshadowed for years by that of the commander of his first Antarctic expedition, Robert F. Scott. With changing times, the Victorian Scott fell from favor and the more modern Shackleton's reputation grew, culminating in the 1959 publication of Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. A more recent work, which includes many of Hurley's photos, is Caroline Alexander's The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Liam Neeson and Kenneth Branagh have both starred in movies dramatizing the expedition, and there have been several documentaries.

The current issue of National Geographic has an article about South Georgia Island by Kenneth Brower, with photos by Paul Nicklen. Find it here.

At least two books have taken Shackleton's leadership style as a model for modern managers: Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lesson From The Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morell and others, and Leading From The Edge: Leadership Lessons From The Extraordinary Saga Of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition by Dennis N.T. Perkins and others.

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